Robben Island – UNESCO World Heritage Site

The father of the Rainbow Nation that is South Africa, Nelson Mandela once wrote to a journalist that the view of the sea from his prison cell on Robben Island, where he spent 18 – 27 years was divinely beautiful. Upon visiting Robben Island the journalist discovered that Nelson Mandela had a white brick wall outside his window. Robben Island is probably more famous for the fact that the late legend Nelson Mandela was incarcerated there, however Robben Island has even more stories to share.

Maximum Prison

Robben (seal in Dutch) Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Robben Island has a high concentration of WW2 sites and it was used as the union’s coastal defense. There are two WW2 searchlights, used in anti-aircraft defense; they were built whilst the Islands defense structures were erected. There are two quarries you can visit on the island, the Limestone Quarry and the Jan van Riebeeck Quarry which mined stone and stone aggregate used to build the Maximum Security Prison by political and common law prisoners in the 1960’s. The prison, which has five meter double fencing and three-meter high walls that surround the courtyards as well as separating the sections, is broken up into the following structures:


  • 4 H-block shaped general sections
    • Each general section contains 4 cells designed to hold 52 inmates
  • An isolation block built in a U-shape
    • Consists of 90 cells.
  • An administration section
  • A hospital
  • A kitchen
  • A dining hall
  • 5 watchtowers

The Garrison and The Good Shepard churches are the only two churches from that time in history that remain, The Good Shepard built for lepers on the island, for the lepers to worship in. Leprosy was a problem for those living on the island, if they caught it, they would most probably die whilst still on the island. North of the Church of Good Shepard extending all the way to the site of the Maximum Security Prison lays the leprosarium graveyard, established 45 years ago, this is where those that died of leprosy were laid to rest.

Walking around the Island is breathtakingly interesting, it is not only about prisons and lepers as one finds there in between the sand and scattered grasses, encircled by metal palisades, one of the 23 Kramats to form the ‘Holy Circle of Islam’ found around Cape Town. This one is both a symbol of the relationship between Islam and Robben Island, and a shrine to Sheik Madura (Pangeran Chakra Deningrat) who passed away in 1754 on the island.

Ferry to Robben Island

The Island lays approximately 9km from Cape Towns shore and it is by ferry that you are transported to and from the Island. A trip lasts 3.5 hours but there is a ferry departing every hour from 9am – 3pm. Make sure to be there 30min before departure time, the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the V&A Waterfront has a multimedia exhibition, restaurant and museum shop to keep you entertained whilst you wait.


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